This was originally posted last year around this time. I think it bears repeating during the holiday season. It has been slightly modified from the original post.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25
Every year, the readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent remind us of the good news that the Jewish people had/have long known because it was foretold by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah – a savior was going to be born of a virgin, and he would be king of all.
And each year when I hear these readings, I immediately think about Mary, and her surprise visit from the Angel Gabriel telling her the shocking news that she was going to be the mother of this Emmanuel. Because I have a granddaughter who is 14-1/2, I can easily picture the look on Mary’s face because I can picture the look on Addie’s face. And I always remind myself that rather than saying, “Let me think about it,” or “Let me look at my calendar and see what I have going for the next nine months,” Mary just said, “Yes.” Oh, she expressed an appropriate amount of confusion about the fact that she was going to bear a child even though she was a virgin, but after getting angel-based clarification, she said, “Yes, I will take on this responsibility.”
But while I use Mary as my model for how to turn my life over to God, I rarely think about Joseph, and his role in this marvelous story of grace.
I mentioned in a post that I watched the movie It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time ever. In the movie, George Bailey – played marvelously by Jimmy Stewart – had his life planned out. He was going to travel. He was going to make lots of money. He was going to leave his crappy little town and live a rich and elegant life with his wonderful wife someplace new and exciting. But, things just kept creeping up that prevented his imagined life to happen in the way he had planned. And finally, just as he had given up hope, he learned the valuable lesson about what is important in life.
We often forget that Joseph, too, had quite a rude awakening when he learned that his bride-to-be Mary was pregnant, and he knew HE wasn’t the father. But rather than publicly humiliating her, he quietly set out to end the relationship in a way that would be less embarrassing to her and her family. And then, the Angel Gabriel (who seemingly had quite a busy few days) told Joseph in a dream to not freak out because she is with child via the Holy Spirit, and in fact, she is going to give birth to the Son of God and the savior of all.
Like George Bailey, I would imagine that Joseph had his life planned out as well. He and his young bride would marry, kids would soon come along – maybe some sons who could learn the carpentry business and help him, and a daughter or two who would help his wife with her hard work – and they would live a quiet and joyful life in their community of Nazareth. Maybe he would run for mayor. Eventually their children would marry and have kids, and he and Mary would be grandparents, at which time they could feed their grandkids all of the sugary figs they wanted and send them home on a sugar high, like all good grandparents do.
But just as soon as he had that dream, Joseph knew his life wasn’t going to go the way he wanted it to go. God had other plans for he and Mary. And, like Mary, he didn’t Google flights out of Jerusalem, but instead, said, “Whatever you say, God.”
According to St. Matthew, Emmanuel means God is with us. And so the very name of Jesus means that he is with us always, even when it seems he couldn’t possibly be further away. He is within us. We just need to get out of his way and let him lead us.